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Necklaces: A link to the past
Throughout history, necklaces and neck adornments have been used to signify social status and wealth, to denote religious or cultural affiliation, or simply to beautify. Materials used range from simple bits of wood or bone to elaborately constructed pendants and ornately inscribed beads. Modern necklaces often showcase precious metals and gemstones.
The first known necklaces were discovered in an archeological dig in the Cave of Pigeons in northeastern Morocco. Consisting of thirteen mollusk shells that had been dyed with red ocher, these primitive beads are estimated to be over 82,000 years old. Small holes had been drilled into the beads, suggesting that they were strung and worn as necklaces; they may also have been used as currency.
Ceremonial necklaces were often a vital part of religious proceedings in ancient Egypt. The menit, or menyet, necklace is portrayed in many artworks of the time; it consisted of a crescent-shaped front attached to a bead necklace, with a weight that was designed to hang down the back of the wearer. This necklace was sacred to the goddess Hathor, a fertility goddess whose aspects included the sun, music, and art. Both priests and priestesses of Hathor wore her holy symbol; some speculate that it was used as a percussion instrument during some religious ceremonies.
In ancient England, the Celts wore torcs, twisted collars that were usually open at the front and were indicative of the wearer’s free-born status; men and women alike wore torcs. They were also used to designate nobility and battle prowess. Torcs were fashioned from various metals, including bronze, gold, and silver; many included small representations of animal heads, intended to call down the protection of deities, invoke animal spirits, or suggest that the wearer shared traits in common with the depicted animal.
During the Middle Ages, religious icons and rosary beads enjoyed widespread popularity. These necklaces served a religious purpose for the masses, and were not considered ornaments or decorations. At the same time, the clergy and other officials began wearing elaborate badges of office, usually suspended by chains around the neck and elaborately jeweled, that denoted their rank and influence within the church or the government. Meanwhile, the noblemen and women of European society began exchanging and wearing golden chains and pendants as marks of friendship or affection.
Today, necklaces are still used in many of the same ways. Far from being simple adornments, necklaces are used as indicators of social and financial status, given as tokens of esteem, and used in religious observances. Lockets can hold treasured keepsakes, like a lock of hair or a picture of a loved one. In modern companies, badge holders are often worn around the neck, allowing this specialized “necklace” to serve as identification as well. From cheap plastic to 24-carat gold, necklaces are a beautiful link to humanity’s past.